Phil Jackson remains convinced the Kobe Bryant/Shaquille O’Neal, L.A. Lakers’ dynasty perhaps prematurely ended because the former tired of the latter’s “clown role” and he never wanted Dennis Rodman for the final three-peat Chicago Bulls’ run he embarked on with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
The legendary coach offered his unplugged assessments during a recent MIT-held panel discussion on dynasties, where he freely spoke of all the trials and tribulations he’s endured over a career that spans nearly five decades.
As a coach, Jackson has won 11 NBA titles, all of them with at least one member from the quartet of Jordan, Rodman, Bryant or O’Neal running shotgun. The memories he came to have over that time are even more countless.
After bagging three straight titles with the Lakers, Bryant and O’Neal infamously bickered their way to a separation amid a feud the reasons for which have been as plentiful as team victories were for them back then. As gregarious as he was overpowering, the 7-foot-1, 300-plus pound O’Neal was long regarded as one of the league’s most popular and outspoken players. But Jackson now seems to believe it all came with a price.
“Shaq had a clown role he had to play,” Jackson told the panel as one of the primary reasons he and the ultra-serious Bryant seem to clash so much. “Shaq didn’t work at it. So that was part of the rift.”
As for when Jordan came out of retirement in 1995 and he and management were looking for the right roster mix to surround him with, Jackson insists Rodman was last on his wish list of power forwards.
“We had to start over when Michael came back,” he said. “We had to start with Toni Kukoc, Scottie and MJ, and I wrote out a list of seven power forwards.”
Jackson now recalls heading his list was Derrick Coleman, but he was in the middle of a long-term contract. With no chance at Coleman, Jackson reluctantly turned to Rodman, and the rest quickly became NBA history.
“That was the best we could do,” Jackson remembers telling himself. That marked the beginning of the second of the Bulls’ three-peat runs and Rodman led the league in rebounding each of those years.
“He had incredible athleticism,” Jackson reflected. “And incredible weirdness. And sometimes the weirdness followed him out to the bars after the game.”